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Enjoy San Joaquin Valley Living

Ciao Cow Creamery’s Handcrafted Gelato in Tulare

Jan 30, 2020 11:00AM ● By Melissa Mendonca

Grab a Pint

February 2020
Story by Melissa Mendonca
Photos by Kelli Avila

TESSA HALL'S CONNECTION to the Central Valley is solid. “I’m born and raised in Tulare,” she says. “My family has had our dairy here for 106 years. My great grandparents have this great American Dream story. They came from northern Italy. It brings tears to my eyes whenever I read it.”

While she and her husband, Stuart, are proud to continue as the fourth generation shipping milk to Land O’ Lakes, they wanted to add a new component to the dairy. “My husband and I were missing that connection directly to the consumer,” she says.

Then her birthday came around.

“Stuart surprised me and got me a birthday present to learn how to make gelato from an Italian lady,” she says, her voice growing in enthusiasm. “She’s amazing. She had her own gelato shop in Seattle.” The class was in Southern California, and set the couple on the course for Ciao Cow Creamery, a Tulare-based handcrafted gelato company. “With that I came home and said, ‘Let’s do this!’”

Ciao Cow sources its gelato milk directly from the family dairy. “It’s Jersey milk, the brown cows,” says Hall. “It’s known for having a higher butterfat.” The distinction of using milk rather than cream is one element that sets gelato apart from ice cream. There is significantly less air in gelato, making it denser than its counterpart.

“If you hold a pint of gelato and a pint of regular ice cream, ours actually feels heavier because there’s much less air,” she says, noting that she has a standardized butterfat content of 8 percent, versus the industry standard of 10 percent butterfat for ice cream. “We’re choosing to use the traditional Italian methods and keep that lower fat content.” 

That’s where tradition ends. Ciao Cow is located in the verdant Central Valley and Hall loves mixing in the flavors of her neighbors. “Our California Pistachio is very unique to what people are used to tasting in a pistachio,” she says. “There’s no almond flavoring at all.”

Hall isn’t afraid to experiment with flavors, noting that one of her most creative is called Movie Night. Milk for the gelato is soaked in buttered popcorn and then churned in with a plethora of movie candy, giving a salty, sweet, buttery, crunchy combination. “It is fun when people want to try something new,” she says.

Wicked Harvest Distillery of Morro Bay uses valley-grown pecans in its bourbon and Hall has found it blends well in a new flavor. “We’re using their pecan bourbon in our Bourbon Pecan gelato,” she adds. Hall develops and standardizes all of the recipes herself.

“One of my favorites is the chocolate hazelnut and the reason it’s my favorite is that it takes me back to Italy every time I taste it,” she says, noting that she spent a year in Turin during undergraduate studies at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo and maintains relationships with relatives still in Italy. “They’re distant cousins now but we’re all still connected,” she says.

Family and connection are the threads running through Ciao Cow Creamery. Tessa and Stuart, a veterinarian, have three children aged 3-8, and navigate the challenges of ambitiously growing Ciao Cow and maintaining duties of the dairy while focusing on their family and community.

Grounding its community commitment, Ciao Cow opened on October 1, 2018 with a fundraising event for Sweet Nectar Society, a nonprofit near and dear to the family’s heart. Ciao Cow maintains a cart for catering events much like a traditional ice cream seller and is available for weddings, fundraisers and other gatherings.

“It’s a growing trend for people to buy local,” says Tess. Ciao Cow Creamery is the Hall family’s offering to the valley. “It completes the cycle. We’re confident in how we use our land and raise our animals. And we’re very confident in our product. It’s all about sharing what we do and it’s all locally handcrafted.” •

Ciao Cow Creamery •
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Melissa Mendonca is a graduate of San Francisco State and Tulane universities. She’s a lover of airports and road trips and believes in mentoring and service to create communities everyone can enjoy. Her favorite words are rebar, wanderlust and change.